TESS Arrives in Florida for NASA Launch

TESS Arrives in Florida | NASA InSight Launches May | Hubble's New Expansion Rate | Amateur Astronomer Records Supernova

Published on 24th Feb, 2018

Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News. In this episode, TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is complete and arrives at the Kennedy Space Center to be loaded on a Falcon 9 rocket; later this year, NASA will launch the Mars InSight Lander, the latest mission to land on the Red Planet; the Hubble Space telescope updates the Hubble Constant of universal expansion to an even greater degree; and an amateur astronomer accidentally records a supernova explosion on his home telescope. First up, since not everyone watches our amazingly perfect live astronomy hangouts every Thursday, I wanted to let you know that the highly anticipated TESS Spacecraft delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 12th to get ready for launch. So far, NASA is saying that launch will be no earlier than mid-April and now that it’s in Florida, over the next month, the spacecraft will be prepped for launch at the Kennedy Hazardous Servicing Facility. For those who don’t know, TESS is the next step in NASA’s search for planets outside our solar system. The mission will scan the entire sky and monitor more than 200,000 of the nearest and brightest stars in search of transiting exoplanets. Transits are these tiny dips in the brightness of a star that’s caused by the planet as it moves between the Earth and the star. Watch our Future in Space hangout from last week for more detailed knowledge of TESS and I also made a space documentary about it as well, so check that out when you can. TESS is expected to find thousands of exoplanets. The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2019, will provide important follow-up observations of some of the most promising TESS-discovered exoplanets, allowing scientists to study their atmospheres and, in some special cases, to search for signs that these planets could support life. I’m hoping to attend the launch at Kennedy for TESS and I’ll of course keep you posted on more information about this amazing mission when it becomes available. Next, in an attempt to outdo itself, NASA is also launching later this year, the Mars InSight Lander. This is the first time I’ve talked about this mission on SFN so let me give you a summary. InSight is expected to launch May 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch window is May 5th through June 8th. As you know, there are best times for launching to Mars, notably when Earth is overtaking Mars in its orbit. This allows for the shortest possible travel time, in this case it will take InSight six months to get to Mars. InSight stand for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, so this won’t be a rover. It will sit on one spot once it lands in Elysium Planitia, a site selected for it’s smooth plain which allowed for a safe landing. Planitia is Latin for plain and Elysium Planitia is located about 373 miles (600 kilometers) from everyone’s favorite rover, Curiosity. The main science goals of InSight are to provide a detailed study of the interior of Mars, what they are calling Mar’s vital signs: its pulse (seismology), temperature (heat flow), and its reflexes (radio science). It will be the first thorough check-up since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago. Ahh NASA humor. InSIght will also try to detect Marsquakes for the first time. Scientists have seen a lot of evidence suggesting Mars has quakes. But unlike quakes on Earth, which are mostly caused by tectonic plates moving around, marsquakes would be caused by other types of tectonic activity, such as volcanism and cracks forming in the planet's crust. In addition, meteor impacts can create seismic waves, which InSight will try to detect. Next, the Hubble Space Telescope has improved the measurement of the rate at which the universe is expanding. Known as the Hubble Constant, the value of this number represents a snapshot of the expansion rate of the universe at any given time. Getting this measurement as accurately as possible was the primary reason the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and over the past 27 years or so (wow, we’re coming up on the 27th anniversary this April), HST has gotten better and better at making it. The latest Hubble result is based on measurements of the parallax of eight newly analyzed Cepheids in our Milky Way galaxy. Cepheid variable are special stars whose variations in brightness directly correspond to their intrinsic brightness which allows astronomers to get very accurate distances. These stars are about 10 times farther away than any studied previously, residing between 6,000 light-years and 12,000 light-years from Earth, making them more challenging to measure. They pulsate at longer intervals, just like the Cepheids observed by Hubble in distant galaxies containing another reliable yardstick, exploding stars called Type Ia supernovae. This type of supernova flares with uniform brightness and is brilliant enough to be seen from relatively farther away. Previous Hubble observations studied 10 faster-blinking Cepheids located 300 light-years to 1,600 light-years from Earth. In case you were interested, the latest value for the Hubble constant as measured by Hubble is 73 kilometers per second per megaparsec and now that astronomers have that number, they can apply it to Hubble’s Law which let’s them measure the distances to the most far away galaxies in the universe. Hubble’s Law says that the speed of a distant galaxy is related to how far away it is. Related how? By the Hubble Constant. So 73 kilometers per second per megaparsec means that for every 3.3 million light years (or one parsec) a galaxy is from us, it is moving 73 kilometers per second faster. Finally, one of my favorite stories that came across my feed this week had to do with this story of an amateur astronomer in Argentina who goes out one dark night from his balcony, sets up his equipment, starts imaging a distant galaxy. And notices a bright star getting brighter by the minute in his camera. He was capturing a supernova explosion. Victor Buso was testing a new camera on September 20, 2016 and was observing on his 16 inch newtonian telescope. He centered the spiral galaxy NGC 613, a galaxy 86 million light years away and for the next hour and a half took a series of pictures 20 seconds in duration. After about 45 minutes, a bright star appeared directly below the spiral and kept getting brighter. Now what’s great about this story is that it is very hard to capture a supernova from start to finish. There is a lot of luck involved and this time was a jackpot. So not only was he lucky enough to be looking at the right place in the right time, he also had the wherewithal to know what to do next. He immediately contacted other amateurs and reported the discover to the Transient Name Server which is a database of observations of transits and is monitored by professional astronomers. As the report went out, telescopes around the world and in orbit swung into action seeing it x-rays, ultraviolet and visible light. By the next day, the supernova was confirmed by telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. As I said before, Supernovae are rare to record and getting the very beginning part is even harder. Capturing a supernova as it actually going off is almost never done. So Buso’s images of the early part of the explosion are a gold mine. So this is an example of not just the golden age of astronomy, but the golden age of amateur astronomy as well. Buso’s data is part of a paper that came out in Nature this week. Well that’s it for this episode Space Fans. SFN is made possible by these and other amazing Space Fans who contribute a lot to making Deep Astronomy videos and hangouts possible. Thank you all so much! I just started a Teespring shop with some first edition Deep Astronomy shirts along with a TESS Shirt I made from NASA graphics. The link is in the description and if you like ‘em let me know. Thanks so much to all of you for watching and as always, Keep Looking Up! Support Deep Astronomy on Patreon: https://patreon.com/DeepAstronomy